The former center fielder, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, is the first Mariner to have his number retired.
In front of a capacity crowd at Safeco Field, Ken Griffey Jr. took one more step into baseball immortality.
Following his July 24 induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., “The Kid” had his No. 24 uniform number retired, becoming the first player to have his number retired by the Mariners.
To honor Griffey, the field was decorated with his number as navy blue 24s were painted down both baselines and in center field. Each Seattle player and coach wore the number on the back of his warmup jersey, and many players took their tributes a step further by wearing their hats backward during batting practice — a nod to Griffey’s signature look.
But it was the pregame ceremony that stole the show. The tribute packed videos, speeches and fanfare into an hour and 15 minutes that celebrated one of the sport’s all-time greats.
When Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs introduced him, Griffey entered from center field to a standing ovation from the crowd, including thousands who were donning his jersey and wouldn’t sit down again until Griffey left the field.
Griffey stopped halfway through his walk, in the middle of the 24 painted in center field, to raise his hands in acknowledgment of the fans.
As he neared home plate, where the ceremony was taking place, the roar of the crowd only got louder.
“This is our Field of Dreams, isn’t it?” Rizzs continued after Griffey took his place near the pitcher’s mound.
It might not have been the Field of Dreams, but it certainly was a field of stars. Among those in attendance were Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Rickey Henderson, as well as other Seattle sports icons, including former Mariners Alvin Davis, Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson and Jamie Moyer; former Seahawks Cortez Kennedy and Steve Largent; and former SuperSonics Spencer Haywood and Gary Payton.
Just before the unveiling of Griffey’s No. 24 in left-center field, Mariners president and COO Kevin Mather announced that a statue of Griffey, mid-swing, will be erected outside of Safeco Field by next season.
Icons including Kobe Bryant, Hank Aaron, Jeff Gordon and Willie Mays paid tribute in video form to Griffey.
“The road from Seattle to Cooperstown is a long one,” one montaged video tribute said. “It winds for 2,400 miles through big cities and small towns, and there’s a Junior story at every single stop.”
Finally, it was Griffey’s turn to speak, and he shared some of those stories.
“This ride has been unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t really explain what the last two weeks have been like. It’s been unforgettable. I walk down the street and I get high-fives like I just scored again.”
He addressed his former teammates in attendance, then turned to the Mariners dugout, which was full of smiles and backward caps.
“Keep fighting,” he told the current team. “We’re all supporting you.”
Then, to the fans:
“Keep supporting these guys. It’s really important … They’re trying to support this city. When we’re out here playing, we’re playing for this city.”
Then, to one of his idols, Henderson:
“You were the greatest. Today, I am the greatest.”